Campaganza 2016: Hraunborgir

Midsummer is nigh here in Iceland and although our run of astoundingly sunshiney summer days seems to have finally caved to the status quo and gotten rainy again, Mark and I have finally gotten the Summer 2016 Campaganza (that is a camping-extravaganza…the portmanteau maybe didn’t work as well as I was hoping) underway. Having done an absurd amount of research on tents, collected a not inconsiderable amount of gear, and investigated a number of local campground options, we decided to take our inaugural outing this weekend—a sort of test run, if you will, for a longer two-week expedition we intend to take further afield in July.

Because we were leaving later in the day on Friday, we decided to find a campground relatively close to the city and settled on Hraunborgir, a campground/summer cabin community close to Selfoss which boasts a swimming pool, golf course, mini golf ‘course,’ and a rec center where it’s possible to order yourself a pizza and watch sporting events of note, such as Iceland’s just-fine-not-great Eurocup match against Hungary on Saturday.

The weather forecast was, in all honesty, not so spectacular for Friday and Saturday, but waiting for the right weather in Iceland is a distinctly futile exercise, and also, what is the point of finding yourselves a sweet, water- and windproof tent with a sheltered ‘living room’ if you only camp in the driest and sunshiney-ist of conditions? So off we went, getting rather lucky with our weather on the first afternoon and night, even if it did go from being super warm to super chilly quite quickly. Which is when I realized, a bit despairingly, that I’d forgotten both a coat and a scarf.

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Summertime and Summer Time

We recently celebrated midsummer here, and I wrote about it, as well my general sense of the summertime spirit here in Iceland, for my most recent column in The Island Review. The full piece can be read on their website, but here’s an excerpt:

“Happy summer solstice,” I wished a southerly-dwelling friend of mine this weekend. “I had no idea,” she said, wishing me a happy day in return. “Do you have any local traditions to take part in?”

Now, if you’re talking about traditions along the lines of those our Nordic neighbors partake of during the midsummer season — dancing around maypoles, donning floral crowns, lighting bonfires, and consuming large quantities of fermented fish — the answer is no. (Bonfires are a popular New Year’s tradition here, but the opportunity to freak out a foreigner is generally excuse enough to bust out the fermented fish shark.)

Rather, I’d say that summer is more of a state of mind in Iceland than it is a season, or a holiday, or a set of prescribed traditions. There’s a kind of urgency accompanies the sudden shift from near-constant darkness to near-constant daylight, a sense that while it may not exactly be warm, this is the time to go out and make the most of what several of my coworkers and acquaintances have referred to as “fallegt land okkar”—our beautiful country. Suffice to say, out of office auto-replies are quite commonplace from April to September.

There’s a snippet a little further on, too, which recalls a summer afternoon last year, and which can be nicely augmented by some throwback photos:

I distinctly remember a Saturday later that same summer, notable because it was the only day that season that I was able to sit outside in a sleeveless shirt for more than half an hour. I was out with a group of friends, and making our way to a park, we passed street musicians, people selling crafts, and even a giant inflatable swimming pool where kids zipped up into giant plastic balls could gambol about like bubble-encased sumo wrestlers. Arriving at the park, itself surrounded by cafés with outdoor seating, we plonked ourselves down on the grass, and (excepting a brief and enterprising run to a nearby Vínbuð for a few cans of beer), didn’t move for the next three hours.    

Around us, however, the air was almost literally buzzing with excitement. Every single café table and chair was filled. There were guys strumming guitars, their classic rock covers mingling with the sound of tinny pop music as teens tried to get as much volume as possible out of their phones. Not one, not two, but three bachelorette parties — each with increasingly antic displays of pre-marital liberty — trooped through the clusters of people lounging on the grass. A coworker on her way to a barbeque sat down with us for a bit and debated whether it might not be better to go straight to the beach instead, or maybe she could do both? A young girl walking a bunny on a leash skipped by. Children scrambled up to the tip top of a statue and whooped.

So, enjoy a little piece of summer in Iceland. And after, if you’re hankering for some more midsummer (and midsummer-adjacent) photos, I’ve posted a few on the new and improved photo blog, here.

Happy summer, everyone!

Merry Christmas (If I Feel Like It)

Well, December has begun and we’re all in full Christmas-mode here in Iceland. That is, when those of us who are at university aren’t studying for exams (I know, poor us).

Also, there was a magical snow storm last week, which added to the general atmosphere:

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But in between the snow-storming, the studying, and the examing, we’ve managed to get in a lot of seasonal candle-burning, cookie-baking, and Christmas music-listening.

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Winter Has Arrived (And I Feel Fine)

First snow this year, Oct. 21, 2014

So, it’s been a really long time, hasn’t it? My saying this is getting to be a habit, I know, but as I’ve mentioned, it has somehow seemed more complicated to write about life here in Iceland now that I don’t always want to follow the phrase “my life” with the phrase “here in Iceland.” Most of the time it’s just “my life” full stop, and while that is frequently full of amusing and/or culturally-observant anecdotes, I feel a bit strange just telling The Internet about my ho-hum, everyday comings and goings. But I do miss you, Internet! Suffice to say, I’m not gone, I’m just working a little harder to come up with super good content.

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Beware the Fearsome Icelandic Death Ice!

Years ago, in college, some friends of mine rented a movie called “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.” I wasn’t even around for this viewing—although the title has stuck with me for all these years—and honestly, The Death Bed (The Bed That Eats) is neither here nor there in terms of this post, except that I would like to draw a mostly-unrelated parallel to a fearsome blight sneaking up (and under) Reykjavíkurs all over our lovely city. Beware, all ye who walk here: Death Ice: The Ice That Sprains. Death Ice: The Ice That Bruises.

Death Ice: Do not be fooled by the attractive vista; this ice is merely lying in wait.

Death Ice: Do not be fooled by the attractive vista; The Death Ice is merely lying in wait for its next victim.

Death Ice:
The Ice That Maliciously Wants You to Fall, Embarrass Yourself In Front of Strangers,
and—If Fortune Smiles—Break An Ankle, A Wrist, A Tailbone…Or All Of The Above.

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Til hamingju með daginn! Birthday 29 in Iceland

I turned 29 on Wednesday (I share a birthday with Saul Bass, I just found out, which is neat) and to commemorate this solemn occasion, Iceland gifted me one of the most lovely days I’ve seen since arriving here in August. It was sunny and mild and clear and even a bit warm at times. It was a perfect day for a walk along the shore, a visit to the “zoo” (explanation of the quotes to follow), a light lunch in a greenhouse, another walk around a botanical garden, a dinner by the harbor, and yet another walk along the shore to cap off the evening. Which is convenient, because that is exactly what we did.

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Tomorrow is the first day of summer!

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Can’t you tell?

According to the old Icelandic calendar, there are two seasons: winter and summer. The first month of summer, Harpa, begins in April. Each year, the first day of summer, or Sumardagurinn fyrsti—the first Thursday after April 18—is celebrated as a public holiday in Iceland. But often, winter and summer “freeze together,” meaning that the temperature on the last day of winter is still below freezing. But this is supposed to actually be a good sign, meaning that the coming summer will be a nice one.

So, based on the snow this morning (which, full disclosure, has since melted), I’d say that Iceland is in for a good summer.

Easter Trip, Day 2: Hiking Laugarvatn and Reykjadalur (or, The Best Thing We’ve Done in Iceland)

For all of the photos from this day, check out the photo blog here.

Picking up from before, the Easter vacation week was a good one, trip-wise, for Mark and I. After a nice first day walking around Þingvellir and Laugarvatn, we woke the next morning, had a delightful breakfast at our B&B, Gallerí, (complete with made-to-order waffles and rye bread baked in a local hot spring) and then decided we’d take advantage of the sunshine to check out the walking paths around the base of Laugarvatnsfjall (Laugarvatn Mountain).

Laugarvatn Tourist Map

Laugarvatn Tourist Map

The path we took on our second day was, due to all the recent rain, a lot less path-like, and we actually did end up hiking a fair amount (versus just walking, I mean). We followed the river bed up toward the base of the mountain as far as we could until it became clear that continuing would necessitate real climbing gear. It was a very pleasant hike, as you can see:

We had thought that we’d spend the later part of the day at the Fontana Wellness Spa, which is pretty reasonably priced and boasts a number of mineral baths, saunas (situated right on top of the natural hot springs), and a warm black sand beach. But with the weather being so nice, we decided to improvise a little.

Drum roll…..for……The Best Thing We’ve Done in Iceland:

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The Sodden Circle

More photo recapping from February:

Mark’s dad R stayed with us for just about a week in February. On his last day, we wanted to take him to see some more sites outside of Reykjavík, and we thought that a day spent around the Golden Circle would be fun. And it was, but it was also wet and foggy and windy for pretty much the whole time, and it took roughly an hour just to get to the point where we could drive without the windows rolled down (the defogger on our rented VW Golf was pretty shoddy). So while Gulfoss and Geysir and Þingvellir are always pretty spectacular, they are, I admit, a bit harder to enjoy while completely sodden.

Nevertheless, I took some more photos (of course), some of which you can see below, and all of which you can see here, on the photo blog.

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